As we begin the month of November a more barren landscape reminds us the days of summer have gone and the colours of autumn are beginning to fade. We are in the final weeks of the liturgical year and this month begins with the celebration of the solemnity of All Saints and All Souls day. For many, this month is filled with memories of family and friends who have died within the last year, or in years gone by. More than any other month, November can be filled with sadness and grief. It is a month that yearns for sunshine and good news.
Amidst this backdrop we gather to celebrate the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time and hear the prophet Malachai condemning behaviour that has led us away from God. In the Gospel Jesus warns against leaders who do not practice what they teach, and place heavy burdens on the shoulders of others. A burden on my shoulder conjures up memories of deep muscle pain — not an image of “good news.”
As I reflected on the Scripture for this Sunday, the image of a heavy burden caught my attention and imagination. Jesus is cautioning us against leaders who do not practice what they teach. He is condemning the scribes and Pharisees who place burdens on others by what they teach, but are not inclined to live by those directives themselves.
It is easy to point a finger at leaders and excuse our own actions. As a wife, parent, grandmother and catechist, I wonder what burdens I place on those I share life with and those I am called to serve. In my own pastoral setting, place of work, classroom or home, do I place expectations on others and neglect to assist them? Each of us can reflect on what we teach, and determine if our lives reflect what we ask others to do. Years ago my son taught me that my words, my facial expressions and my actions need to match for my message to be credible. If our words and actions do not match, we risk placing burdens upon others or proclaiming Good News we have not yet embraced.
Jesus reminds his disciples and us that we are to be students of Christ and we are to serve others. The words of Jesus are echoed in the letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. St. Paul’s image of proclaiming the Good News and being as gentle as a nurse caring for her children is in sharp contrast to a heavy burden being placed on our shoulders. St. Paul acknowledges that being a follower of Christ has demands, yet God does not want us to be burdened.
As I prepared to write this reflection, my days were shaped by the rhythm of hospital time as I was with a family member recovering from surgery. It was easy for me to let the burden of illness, surgery, waiting for doctors, anxiety and fear to take hold of my thoughts. It was the words of Psalm 131 that challenged me to let them go: “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.” As I prayed the words I was reminded of Jesus’ words in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” When we learn to rely on God, we may be surprised at how our burden is eased.
We have a tendency to let the difficulties of daily life shape our thoughts. St. Paul reminds us that we are called to accept the Word of God and to live in a way that the Good News shapes our lives. We become a reflection of the Good News when we allow our lives to be a reflection of what we believe.
On Sundays we gather to hear God’s Word. In our assembly, the diversity of experiences, circumstances and family constellations are evident. Often the Word we hear proclaimed is markedly different from the messages we may hear at home, school or work. As we listen, may we ask the Spirit to open our hearts so we may be nourished, free to surrender our burdens to God.
May God’s Word lead us to give praise and thanks for all that we have been given and to be open to the gift of dining together at the Lord’s table where we become more fully who we are: the Body of Christ for the life of the world.
Catherine Ecker, a parish catechist and freelance writer, speaker and facilitator lives in Barrie, Ont. For over 35 years she has presented and led times of formation on catechetical and liturgical topics throughout Canada. She is married, a parent and grandparent Reach her at email@example.com